People concerned about possible exposure to contaminants were contained temporarily in a "hot zone" for treatment.

Probe fails to find
Aiea fume source

Vapors send 21 to hospitals
and force office evacuations

Fire officials do not know the source of chemical fumes that permeated two Pearlridge medical clinics and offices yesterday morning and sent at least 21 people to hospitals.

Chart "We may never know what the chemical was," said Honolulu Fire Department spokesman Capt. Kenison Tejada. He said all the victims were treated and released by last night.

Officials said the fumes dissipated before the Fire Department and blue-suited hazardous materials teams arrived, so they were unable to obtain a sample for testing.

"We still don't know what the fumes were," said Tammy Martin, manager of the Pali Momi Straub Clinic, one of the two buildings that were evacuated.

Some officials conjectured late yesterday that the fumes were an air-conditioning system refrigerant that leaked into the building's ventilation system and spread.

Toby Clairmont, of the Health Care Association of Hawaii, said about 100 people were evacuated from the cluster of single-story offices and clinics on Pali Momi Street. He said at least 20 were decontaminated. He said 13 were treated at Kapiolani Medical Center at Pali Momi, and nine at Kaiser Medical Center.

Firefighters and a health-care worker rushed to help a nurse from the Internal Medicine Office yesterday after she collapsed just seconds after asking for oxygen. Patients of the office said they smelled an odor, then were quickly evacuated.

As fumes filled the air and people started to fall sick at 9:36 a.m., the Honolulu Fire Department was sent to Internal Medicine/Pediatric Associates LLC at 98-151 Pali Momi Street. The clinic, where the fumes originated, was evacuated. At least seven people initially were treated for symptoms that included rashes, vomiting, fainting and burning of the eyes, ears, nose, throat and lungs.

Alicia Lewellen, 16, of Aiea, who was in the Internal Medicine clinic yesterday morning with her older sister, said there was a strong odor, and she saw one nurse pass out.

"The HazMat (Hazardous Materials Unit) guys came in and told us to evacuate," she said.

At least five firetrucks responded, including a mobile command station. Ambulances arrived throughout the morning taking turns carrying victims to the two hospitals.

"Some people said this started at 7 a.m., and they didn't call us until 9:30 a.m.," said Honolulu fire Battalion Chief Manuel Neves.

From the Internal Medicine clinic, the fumes spread into the nearby Straub clinic. At 10:20 the Fire Department evacuated the building.

Les Kurano, field operations supervisor for EMS, and firefighters tended to a nurse who collapsed from fumes yesterday near the Internal Medicine clinic and Straub's Pearlridge clinic.

The immediate area around the building was cordoned off with yellow police tape, and more than 20 victims were corralled inside so they could be checked by emergency medical technicians. Police closed down Pali Momi between Kamehameha Highway and Haukapila Road.

Each person was examined by Emergency Medical Services personnel and then escorted to a blue decontamination tent where they were hosed down before being put into waiting ambulances.

"There was a funny smell and everyone was evacuated," said Annette Brown, a nurse at Straub who was among those treated for symptoms.

More than an hour after the evacuation, Brown, who was seated on a cement bench with other exposed health care workers, appeared to experience a delayed reaction. As she bent over with nausea, three firefighters surrounded her and then helped her to the blue tent.

Other people who were exposed also experienced delayed symptoms that included fainting and vomiting.

By 11:30 about seven victims were identified from the Internal Medicine clinic, where the fumes originated. The fumes then permeated Straub, where 11 victims were identified before noon.

By noon, people who had been exposed to the vapors but reported no symptoms and were allowed to leave began calling area hospitals with similar symptoms.

Battalion Chief Neves said state environmental officials also were called in. After conferring, state and fire officials "agreed the offices were safe, but we also recommended that Straub and the medical clinic have the AC (air conditioning) checked," he said.

"We came up empty as far as our tests were concerned," said Neves, "but the medical tests might turn up something."

People exited a tent set up along Pali Momi Street after being hosed off for possible exposure to contaminants.

Star-Bulletin reporter Rod Antone contributed to this report.


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